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House Committee Passes Biofuels Infrastructure RD&D Bill

1 February 2007

The House Committee on Science and Technology has passed H.R. 547, the Advanced Fuels Infrastructure Research and Development Act.

The bill initiates a research, development and demonstration (RD&D) program to make biofuels more compatible with present-day infrastructure. H.R. 547 also directs agencies to develop technologies and methods to provide low-cost, portable and accurate measurements of sulfur in fuels, and to develop a physical properties database and Standards Reference Materials for biofuels.

...if our country is serious about reducing our dependence on foreign oil, we need to get serious about mobilizing the infrastructure necessary to distribute and dispense alternative fuels.

—Bart Gordon (D-TN), Chairman

We can have all the biofuels to supply every car in our nation, but if the infrastructure is not in place to move the fuels to where they are needed, then it doesn’t help us. Further, if the government is going to mandate that retailers sell Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel fuel, then there should be an affordable means to ensure that the fuel being sold fits those requirements.

—Ralph Hall (R-TX), Ranking Member

Among the changes incorporated during the mark-up session on the bill were making the EPA Office of Research and Development the lead agency conducting the R&D and adding a funding authorization.

H.R. 547 is expected to be before the full House within the next two weeks.

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More stunning stupidity from our elected officials.

We don't need an alternative CARRIER fuel, we need an alternative PRIMARY fuel. The easiest way to get there from here is to promote (waste) biomass gasification/Fischer-Tropsch. In other words, produce the same (liquid hydrocarbon) fuels we are used to, with no concerns about transportation, blending or even changing the existing fleet of vehicles. Simple, eh?

But who is going to have a sensible energy policy when there is PORK to be handed out? So off you go: Hydrogen! No, ethanol! No, methanol! No, biodiesel! No, butanol...

An Engineer,
True, but why limit ourselves to the same old hydrocarbon chains? There are other chemicals that can be derived from syngas, that have superior combustion properties. We can have cleaner air, roughly equal energy density, and no fleet/transport compatibility issues. A few candidate 2nd gen biofuels are NExBTL (Neste Oil), "Green Diesel" and "Green Gasoline" (Honeywell).

_Further down the line, we can use the syngas to feed SOFC, or IGCC electric generation systems.

Both of you guys are on track, but the simplest thing of all is to package the dry cellulosic biomass, transport it via trucks to each city and gasify it to produce H2 right on the spot and feed H2-capable vehicles as the biomass is being gasified in the same facility. The heat from gasification can be fed to SOFC for high-temp electrolysis using surplus wind or solar electricity. THe O2 released from electrolysis is then used to feed into the gasifier for more gasification. Waste heat will be fed to Sterling engines for electrical production. Nothing will be wasted and efficiency will be very high. Very low-cost H2 as fuel will be produced. The H2-vehicles will also be NG capable to extend its range even further, or where NG is available but H2 may not be. Coal gasification can also be substituted for biomass gasification if biomass shortage occurs, such in drought times or crop failure. Don't have to walk just because your crop didn't grow!

No need to build the "trillion dollars" H2 dispensing infrastructure as many have suggested. Just build one or two gasifiers per city, generally one gasififer every 100 square mile of urban area, and feed the H2-vehicles directly from the same facility. Rural area can run the same car on NG from pipeline. Why consider about ethanol, grain or cellulosic, or other potentially polluting synthetic fuels, which will be complex and energy-consuming to produce.

Ummm excuse me Engineer but what bill are you talking about. The article references HR 547 which says nothing about hydrogen or any of the other subjects but simply authorizes the Dept. of Energy to coordinate with NIST about additives to Utra Low Sulfer level diesel and BIO-fuels such as Ethanol, Bio-diesel, etc to make these newer fuels compatiable with our current fuel distribution system. It's not a comprehensive energy bill or complete revamp of the fuels distribution system, it's simply an authorization for a small piece of the action, and one that sort of looks to my neophyte eyes as a pretty good idea. So why the rant? Are you saying that you think we can rip out the entire infrastructure on a dime and build it compleatly new overnight? Using the existing system to phase over to newer fuels and making sure they don't rot out or destroy all the existing tanks, pipes, and other paraphenallia of fuels distribution seems like a good idea. I for one would hate to hear of a massive fuel spill along some pipeline of refining spot because newer blends of gasoline or diesel corroded the seals. I'm afraid your response confuses me. Please explain?

Why do we have to spend so much resources to prolong the life of an inefficient unhealty carbon based transportation technology?

ICE vehicles have to be progressively replaced by BEVs even if we have to use interim HEVs and PHEVs for 10 to 20 years or until such time as on board storage units become more performant and cheaper.

All those biofuel plants will become redundant unless they can be converted to food production.

Now is the time to use much more resources to produce low cost high performance electrical energy storage units + clean electricity + higher capacity safer grids.

BUT ... We needed alternative fuels yesterday. We are about as close to H2, fuel cells, etc as we are to fusion.

If we want to get transportation fuel before our politicians destroy our world, we are going to have to develop something that can be produced fairly soon and distributed by our existing infrastructure.

My choice is Biodiesel aided by alcohol.

Harvey:

Your idea is still dependent on replacing a few hundred million vehicles already on the road with EVs, a process that will take many decades, even if the battery technology needed to make it practical for a reasonable cost comes along.

Carbon-neutral biofuels like butanol and algae-based biodiesel will make a much greater impact because there is already a huge market for them, regardless of the inefficiency of the ICE.

Lucas,
You said: "...We are about as close to H2, fuel cell etc. as we are to fusion."

I'd say, we are about as close to H2/CH4-ICE-HEV technology as we are close to petroleum exhaustion. Ain't got time to fool around!

Harvey,
Your concern regarding obsolete biofuel plants is a valid one. My solution for this is the following:

For now, use a local in-town biomass or coal gasifier to produce syngas. This is coupled with a F/T synthetic module to produce liquid fuel for existing vehicle fleets, while save some H2 for more and more H2/CH4-capable vehicles that will roll out in the near future. Eventually, you will need more H2 and less liquid fuel, as the price of synthetic liquid fuel will always be higher than H2 per energy equivalent, so more people will choose H2/CH4-capable vehicles over liquid-fuel vehicles. The likes of CARB ZEV mandate in most heavily-populated areas will further assist in this regard. This will provide a very smooth transition from dirty liquid hydrocarbon fuels to ultra-clean H2 fuel.

To encourage more usage of synthetic biomass BTL and H2 fuel over petroleum, the biomass BTL fuel and H2 will not be taxed for a long time, while petroleum will be subjected to a gradually increasing tax rate. This will encourage Big Oil to invest more into BTL and H2 fuel production, while phasing out oil exploration, which will be increasing of low-yield anyway. This will prevent Big Oil from applying political pressures to oppose the transition to renewable fuel economy, because they will make just as much profit from BTL and H2 fuels as with petroleum.

The public, having affordable alternatives to petroleum, will not politically object to a gradual increase in petroleum tax, either. This is a win-win situation for all. More jobs will be created and the economy will experience a boom due to more investment in biofuel and H2 technology.

The day will come when most vehicles will be H2-capable, and liquid hydrocarbon can be phased out completely. This will happen gradually and will have no disrupting impact on the economy at all, while local air quality will be greatly improved, and the environment will no longer suffer from oil spills and carcinogens leaking into the water supply and wild life reserves.

In 2004 total energy supply in US (electricity+heat+fuels) was as follows: oil – 40%, coal – 23%, NG – 23%, nuclear – 8%, renewables – 6%. For electricity generation coal was about 40% and nuclear about 20%.

Now the interesting part. From all renewables solar was 1%, wind 2%, geothermal 6%, hydroelectric 43%, and BIOMASS 47%.

Most of biomass was (and is) wood waste, used for heating and most of it – for co-firing in coal boilers (about 5-7% of total calorific input) to generate electricity. More than 20 US utilities use this technology.

Now, in some kind of the virtual world (where couple of posters definitely live), where 100% of electricity is produced by nukes/solar/wind and alike, and we desperately need to replace fossil transportation fuels by something renewable, their vastly inefficient biomass gasification projects would make sense.

In real world, where 40% of US electricity comes from coal, it is way simpler, cheaper, and more energy efficient to combust economically available biomass waste in existed coal plants and heating/steam installations, and gasify saved coal (or NG) into liquid transportation fuels. Actually, this is exactly what China is doing on ever increasing scale.

Harvey,

"Carbon-neutral biofuels like butanol and algae-based biodiesel will make a much greater impact because there is already a huge market for them, regardless of the inefficiency of the ICE."

Completely agree with you. While everyone keeps debating over the long term solutions, we need to keep our focus on short term, actionable improvements as well.

There are still huge improvements that can be made to the ICE. We know we could improve the overall efficiency from around 30% to around 50% by utilizing HCCI in spark ignition engines and waste heat recovery in all engines (through mechanically-driven methods like BMW's Turbosteamer or more optimally, through the use of thermoelectrics).

Combining this drastic improvement in ICE efficiency with increased biofuel components of our different fuels, and complementing all of this with strategic use of hybrid technology (using mild-hybrids to full PHEVs where they make the most sense from a cost/benefit standpoint), we can buy ourselves a lot more time. Time we need to allow our R&D to find the best long term solutions, before we start rushing into large-scale implementations that don't make sense.

Does this mean that they still have to create a MSDS standards, for these biofuels? If so, that could be a major problem in getting biodiesel and bioethanol all made to a rigorous standard formula. The EPA and OSHA are pretty strict in regulating chemicals and components. All chemicals must react and behave the same way, hence the MSDS standard. If a standard is not there, this will be a major hurdle to increasing biofuel's growth, if not spelling the end of their use.

Angelo:

Pure (without the help of batteries or super-caps or FC) ICE vehicles have a well to wheel efficency of only 15% to 25% while overall GHG emission is still very high.

Overall efficiency could be improved up to three folds with better design, lighter vehicles and by increasing the electrical energy portion as done in HEVs, PHEVs and finally BEVs while similarly reducing GHG emission.

Biofuels may be acceptable as a limited time gap filler to replace liquid fossil fuel, reduce GHG, reduce imported Oil and maintain our existing 240 million ICE dinosaurs in operation for the next 20 years.

Eventually, we will have to accept a major evolution change from carbon based economy to clean electric energy economy. ICE vehicles + coal fueled power generating plants will be progressively replaced as were horses and buggies, coal home furnaces/stoves, coal fueled locomotives etc.

Humanity may not have the luxury of maintaining the status quo for many more generations. We have to change the way we do certain things, starting with ground transportation + production-usage of cleaner electric energy.

This is not a dream but plain reality. It is just another neccessary step forward.

Understood - I was not quoting well-to-wheel efficiency. Only the ability for the ICE to turn the chemical energy into mechanical energy. Until we achieve near perfect combustion and stop wasting such vast amounts of energy through heat, I think there is still much room for the ICE to improve, before it outlives its usefulness.

As has becomeobvius to ar makers there will be more then one fuel in 2030. ev h2 bio. A solid tripl.

Andrey,
You said: "...their vastly-inefficient biomass gasification project would make sense."

Biomass gasification to BTL via F/T is considered to be 50%-100% more efficient than enzymatic conversion of cellulosic biomass to ethanol. If you would stop right H2 production, you would get even a lot higher efficiency.
Dutch researchers calculated that even with imported biomass transported overseas, BTL via F/T can result in diesel fuel at $2.65/gallon. They concluded that at crude oil price above $60/barrel, large-scale BTL would be competitive with petroleum. Look at the following link for details: http://www.greencarcongress.com/2006/09/dutch_researche.html#more

Look in GCC index at BTL topic for more info for Biomass to liquid conversion. There is nothing there that indicates BTL is "vastly-inefficient."

It is a sad fact that the majority of US electrical power is still produced from fossil fuel. However, the fact remain that only ~0.5% of desert area in the world is sufficient for electrical needs of the entire world at ~30% efficiency using solar thermal or concentrated PV technologies. Wind electricity and solar PV are fast growing than ever. The day will come when most of our electricity needs will come from renewable energy. It is not a matter of whether, it is just a matter of time! We simply won't have a choice in this regard, eventually.

The virtual worlds of caring, forward-looking, and inventive people of today will become the real world for the future generations, just as the virtual worlds of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla etc. eventually became the real world for most of us!

Ummm excuse me Engineer but what bill are you talking about. The article references HR 547 which says nothing about hydrogen or any of the other subjects but simply authorizes the Dept. of Energy to coordinate with NIST about additives to Utra Low Sulfer level diesel and BIO-fuels such as Ethanol, Bio-diesel, etc to make these newer fuels compatiable with our current fuel distribution system. It's not a comprehensive energy bill or complete revamp of the fuels distribution system, it's simply an authorization for a small piece of the action, and one that sort of looks to my neophyte eyes as a pretty good idea. So why the rant? Are you saying that you think we can rip out the entire infrastructure on a dime and build it compleatly new overnight? Using the existing system to phase over to newer fuels and making sure they don't rot out or destroy all the existing tanks, pipes, and other paraphenallia of fuels distribution seems like a good idea. I for one would hate to hear of a massive fuel spill along some pipeline of refining spot because newer blends of gasoline or diesel corroded the seals. I'm afraid your response confuses me. Please explain?
Sorry Larry, but you missed my point entirely. To sum it up: Why spend valuable tax dollars on a future that is most likely to never happen? I was trying to point out that if you are going to convert biomass into liquid fuels, convert it into (the same) gasoline and diesel that we are all used to.

Of course, it is not the exact same gasoline and diesel: it has a different origin, and is hence carbon neutral. It is also cleaner than fossil fuels: no sulfur or aromatics. Apparently this point also confused Allen.

And no, Roger, it does not matter how you phrase the question, hydrogen is never the answer. What you are suggesting (transport biomass to the point of use and convert to hydrogen) is impractical for the following reasons (including but not limted to):
1. Transporting biomass would be a lot more expensive than tranporting liquid fuels. It only looks good compared to transporting hydrogen.
2. Thousands of little hydrogen factories all over the country? I know a Mr. Bin Laden (1A Nondescript Cave, Pakistan) that would love that idea.
3. You are not telling me that a backyard operation hydrogen factory would have a high efficiency.

Mr. Engineer,
One gasifier for every 100 square miles of urban area is not a backyard gasifier. It will be quite a humongous one that will take up one or more city blocks. All the energy generated by the gasifier will be recycled into high-temp electrolysis and for electrical generation via steam turbines or Sterling engines. How can it not be the utmost in energy efficiency? When only a few H2 cars are around, the gasifier station will make synthetic "crude oil" to be shipped to a refinery. When more H2 cars will come out, then less synthetic crude oil will be produced.

Inefficiency of transporting dry biomass? Dutch researchers have calculated that even biomass imported overseas can be competitive with petroleum at current petroleum prices. Biomass gathered locally of course, will be transported with much less cost. With dry biomass packaged into bales, no need for a steel walled tanker used for liquid fuels that can be heavy. Just a flatbed tractor-trailer with the bales piled up high is all that's needed.

Terrorist? The last thing that they would attack would be a hydrogen facility. Fist of all, the H2 tanks will be so strong it will resist any kind of munitions thrown at it, and if it should crack due to a huge bomb, the H2 will leak skyward and will burn at level way way above ground where it will not do much damage.

If I'm a terrorist, I would buy $20 worth of gasoline and let it flow all around the gas station and throw in a molotov cocktail, or trigger a spark via my cell phone. The whole station will engulf in a big fire ball that will burn all the cars around and rupture all the car's fuel tank and like a chain event, the whole neighborhood will go up in flame. It can be done today, in that it does not require any type of explosives or munitions. I hope that no would-be terrorist will read my posting today, or else you'll hear it in the national news tomorrow!

But, I appreciate your feedback, Mr. Engineer!

As I said several zillion times before the main used for h2 early on will be in places where bio and conventional fuelsare scarce and also in uses such as performance and luxury cars where avoiding cafe and other future constrictions on car design will be valued.

Examples include suvs sports cars.. lux sedans and large lux cars.


Things the car makers wont want counted in cafe.

Roger:

The problem with biomass derived energy is that biomass has low energy density (regular wood waste has 30-50% humidity, and low calorific value even on dry basis), and biomass sources are scattered over big territory with again low energy density. I’ve read many times that max economical radius of wood waste trucking to combustion facility is about 50 miles. Note, that it is for already collected and concentrated biomass waste. Collection of biomass for energy generation purposes is extremely expensive, and requires a lot of labor, time, and ENERGY too. Situation with wet biomass is even worse. Calculated max economical radius for corn stover collection to produce cellulosic ethanol is less than 30 miles.

BTW, it is the reason why some companies (like Dynamotive) are trying to develop mobile small units to convert relatively small amount of biomass to concentrated fuel, like pyrolytic liquid, for economical long distance trucking. Only this will allow for economical operation of large biomass-based gasifiers or alike.

Andrey,
I appreciate your continual thoughts and suggestions on this issue.
Yes, certainly, the biomass must be preprocessed in the field as much as possible in order to make it as compact as possible for transportation up to hundreds of miles. Probably not farther than hundreds of miles, since there are farms almost everywhere that would have cellulosic biowaste. Certainly, the biowaste cannot be harvested completely, or that would deplete the soil. A lot of agricultural engineering must be done to fine-tune the process to make it sustainable and economical. Crop rotation with nitrogen-fixing legume plants should be considered to reduce the need for chemical fertilizer which requires energy to produce.

Also, fast-growing algae supplemented with extra CO2 from the gasifiers can produce biofuel very efficiently and can be harvested and processed more efficiently than cellulosic biomass.

Also, one more issue I have not mentioned: the synthetic "crude oil" produced by the centrally-located gasifying-synthetic plant should not be stored nearby the gasifiers and F/T synthesis module, but must be delivered via underground pipelines to discrete storage facilities away from populated areas, preferably underground if cost-permitting, for safety reason.

The way they willlikely do switch grass biomass is they will site the plants on rail lines and fill entire trains with heavy compacted rail car sized bails. The modern bailer machines can harvest and bail grass into extremely compacted massively heavy bails.

s for forest based biomass its no different then forest based wood burning power plants. They masicaly mow the forest into shavings and dump that to dry then dump that into the digester. It doesnt have to go far because a forest of fast growing trees can supply a rather big plant without needing to be all that many suare miles. the plant of course would be at the center of said forest.

Forest based bio will be done where fast growing forest farms are the norm. Grass where grass is the norm and algae all sorts of other plances and bah blah blah.

Larry

Thanks for explaining H.R. 547. After reading the legislation, i did not understand the purpose. Now i do.

Wintermane said "The problem with biomass derived energy is that biomass has low energy density (regular wood waste has 30-50% humidity, and low calorific value even on dry basis), and biomass sources are scattered over big territory with again low energy density. I’ve read many times that max economical radius of wood waste trucking to combustion facility is about 50 miles." This is only true if one thinks inside the box and considers transporting wet wood. Wood can be dried, made into briquettes or pellets, then shipped in bulk thousands of miles. For example, pellets sre shipped from British Columbia to New England, from Nova Scotia to Sweden. Small pellet mills producing 14,000 tonnes per year can be set up and run profitably using biomass from not more than 5 miles away. Then one is hauling fuel not water with an equal amount of wood added.

gjenkins and Roger,
Biomass transportation is orders of magnitude more expensive than pumping liquid fuels through an existing fuel supply system. As I said, the only thing more expensive, would be transportation of hydrogen itself.

wintermane,
You are misinformed about what is going on the the nations forests. I suggest you read up on the issue before showing your ignorance.

Of course, the first prize is to use as much waste as possible as a feedstock for BTL. That means no resources needed for feedstock production. Once this source is close to depletion (and only then) would it make sense to consider an energy crop.

No crop is going to beat algae. Period.

Mr Engineer,
Certainly, your point regarding efficiency of liquid fuel via pipeline is valid.
However, transporting dry waste biomass only tens of miles to a few hundred miles is still quite practical cost-wise and not inefficient, in comparison to oil that must flow in pipelines for thousands of miles, since oil wells are not everywhere, while farms and forest are almost everywhere and are quite close to population centers where the H2 will be consumed!

Oil must be imported overseas for quite a percentage of it by tanker, or from Canada via thousands of miles of pipeline to refineries, and then trucked again from the refinery to the gas station.
Waste biomass is processed in the field and is trucked for only a few hundreds of miles to a local gasifier to produce H2, and that's it! no more transportation, as the H2 will be consumed right there in the local community.

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